Washington: Scientists claimed to have discovered a protein that preserves the ability of stem cells to become specialised cells in the body.
Researchers from the University of Michigan Medical School found that a protein `Mof` plays a key role in the "epigenetics" of stem cells meaning it helps stem cells read and use their DNA.
Yali Dou and her team zeroed in on the factors that add temporary tags to DNA when it`s coiled around tiny spools called histones.
In order to read their DNA, cells have to unwind it a bit from those spools, allowing the gene-reading mechanisms to get access to the genetic code and transcribe it.
The temporary tags added by Mof act as tiny beacons, guiding the "reader" mechanism to the right place.
"Simply put, Mof regulates the core transcription mechanism, without it you can`t be a stem cell," Dou said.
"There are many such proteins, called histone acetyltransferases, in cells but only MOF is important in undifferentiated cells," Dou said in a statement.
Mof appears to control the process that actually allows cells to determine which genes it wants to read, a crucial function for stem-ness, the study found.
"Without Mof, embryonic stem cells lost their self-renewal capability and started to differentiate," she explained.
"So far, Mof is the only histone acetyltransferase found to support the stemness of embryonic stem cells," she added.
The study was publsihed in the journal Cell.